A Look Back; Battling the Bipolar Beast

Hey, this will be my first blog on here so I'll apologize for the length of this blog, my mind tends to wander. Oh yeah, don't mind the run on sentences.

I've been thinking a lot of how the Flames roster has changed in the last decade. Here's how I saw things:

Still floundering from poor roster management, the Flames entered the 2000's with a team that lacked in depth and never convinced on defence. The years of Conroy's captaincy are looked back upon as the death of the dreadful 90's and the rise of the Iginla years.

By 2002 Iginla assumed captaincy and Greg Gilbert's coaching days in Calgary were coming to a near end. Passing through from those days include Marc Savard, Chris Drury, Rob Neidermayer, and Ronald Petrovicky. Iginla's rise continued into mid 2003 when Darryl Sutter assumed the General Manager and Coach position. From there the Flames put up a winning record for the remainder of the season. Iginla missed out on the voting for the Hart Trophy due to Jose Theodore's career year in Montreal and the fact that the Flames did not make the post-season.

The following year hardly needs to be explained. Its the year every Flames fan will remember. One note that I would like to make of that year is that the team that was iced was probably the least skilled and the most tenacious on the puck. Whether it was Darryl's aggressive forechecking system or maybe the hubris he inspired, the Flames didn't give the other team time or space.

I remember my dad taking me to Calgary-Chicago games when I was a youngster in the 90s, back when Darryl Sutter was an Assistant Coach to Mike Keenan. He was always enthusiastic about how fast the Blackhawks were in terms of puck pressure.

Fast forward through a pair of heartbreaking playoff losses, an NHL lockout, and a year of wondering how the Flames will follow up their miracle run to game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.


Sutter coached the much of the same team to 1st in the NW and aquired Kristian Huselius along the way.  The playoffs were a dissapointment as the Ducks overpowered and outplayed the Flames team. Although newly aquired Kristian Huselius brought us close to getting back into contention in game 7 but hit a post on a breakaway in the twilight minutes of the game.

July 12th, 2006, Jim Playfair assumes coaching duties and Flames Nation makes their doubts clear. Although leading us to the playoffs, the job was clearly getting to Playfair. From game 1 to 82 Playfair could be spotted on the bench with dark bags under his eyes and chewing away at his nails. I had never felt stressed out just looking at someone until Playfair coached for the 06-07 season. A dissapointing overtime loss in game 6 of round one left a bad taste in the mouths of the team, the fans, and the media.

That was all the "new" Flames Nation needed before deciding Playfair wasn't ready for two years at the helm and Darryl made the executive decision to give the reigns to the seasoned Mike Keenan.

The Keenan years were frustrating. It was a dark age despite the "Win Now" expectations. Dark in the sense that the average fan had no idea what was going on in the dressing room and no idea what team was going to show up. The always fiery Iginla seemed to lose some intensity over those years that I still don't think he's gotten back. He reduced the mind blowing wrist shots and was altogether less passionate when he played. I could probably count the games with two hands that he got angry and changed the game during those years.

Darryl Sutter upgraded the roster vastly over during that era into one that appeared to be a contender every year. The problem that had followed the Flames since the 06 season remained despite additions such as Mike Cammaleri, Kristian Huselius, Alex Tanguay, Dion Phaneuf, and Olli Jokinen. This problem was their inconsistency-- I will forever be convinced that the Flames were the most bipolar hockey team to play NHL during the 2000's. They could beat any team and sweep large amounts of games if they were going. But go they did not always do. When they didn't they would be hard pressed to beat the Hershey Bears.

Flash forward to the summer of 09. Mike Keenan gets "blindsided" with a termination after losing the confidence of his team and escorting them to a game 6 loss to Chicago. Everyone short of Iginla had some form of injury going into those playoffs and Keenan couldnt have coached that team much further than the 1st round even if he did practice special teams (which he did not.)

Replacing Keenan is Brent Sutter. Having led the Devils to a round 2 loss the year before utilizing a heavy two man forecheck and a strong counter attack to the trap. Brent Sutter's hybrid style of agressive-defense hockey had Flames fans beginning to think positively about the results of the coming season. But the bipolar beast lingered.
Not before the flames brought the best first half in the decade. What most fans forget about last season is that the flames were 1st in the NHL until a back-breaking losing streak leading into christmas that carried over into january. The only bright spot to this time was a domination of the Oilers in a 5-2 win that saw Souray break his hand. The Oilers didn't win a game in January 2010.

Goal Scoring was the problem for the Flames from that streak on. For a team with so much offensive talent on paper, they failed to hit the scoresheets. Still obeying a strict defensive system, the flames just didnt have the finish. It seemed like every game we lost was by one goal and we had 20 minutes of failed attempts in the 3rd to account for the loss.

This carried on until the late season where the Flames put together what they could to make the playoffs. By March, players on Calgary (with the exception of Mikael Backlund) seemed like they already knew they weren't going to make the playoffs and a loss to a basement dwelling Islanders team appeared to be the final nail in the coffin to what was a disaster of a stretch run.

Now we have the 10-11 season to look forward to. I see fans making predictions of the team based on the roster additions and I shake my head. If there's one thing to learn from the Flames' rise to contention and their underperformance it would be that the roster isn't going to make a lick of difference come January. We've either found it or we havent. My solace entering the season is knowing doors are closing for alot of individuals in the organization.

Anyways, thanks for reading my blog. Next up is a look forward.

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